LGBTQ Kids: Suffering for Faith

On tears and rejecting harmful belief systems

Parents who try to change their child’s sexual orientation increase suicide risk significantly (LGBTQ Nation)

I cried as I fell asleep —

My own fault, really. I shouldn’t have been reading Braden’s Story by Mason Dodd.

As an aspiring author of LGBTQ YA fiction, I read a lot. Knowing my genre is part of the job. This one knocked me for a loop.

Plot line?

Braden is thirteen, an only child, the cherished member of a devout, loving Christian family. His life couldn’t be better… until he begins realizing his sexual attraction to other guys.

Over the course of the next five years, Braden’s family is ripped to pieces as he first accepts his sexual orientation, then rejects it to please his parents.

The author shows him changing — from a happy, thriving child with loads of support, to a fearful, almost neurotic teenager who ends up abusing his mind and body as he distances himself from the normal intimacies of family and friendship.

The “conversion therapy” he volunteers for doesn’t feature aggressive aversion techniques like those I’ve dramatized in my own fiction, but years of constant pressure to change himself lead Braden to the brink of alcoholism, despair, and suicide.

You don’t get brownie points for calling us depraved and then telling people to respect us anyway.

Dodd does a beautiful job evoking the unrelenting conflict Braden lives with. Deep down Braden knows he’s a good person. Intellectually, he rejects the faith systems that stigmatize him and paint him as defective. But he can’t keep his head above water. His desire to please his parents and become their beloved son again cause him to flounder and sink.

It isn’t intolerant to call for tolerance. It isn’t hateful to point out that religious doctrines that hurt innocent people must not be tolerated.

He begins to behave as if something were wrong with him as a person, and his behavior eventually cements pathology, like cognitive behavioral therapy in reverse.

So why did I shed tears?

Possibly — because I lived through something similar. But that doesn’t explain the strength of my reaction. I’ve had decades to get over my own family rejection.

Mostly — because I was thinking about suffering, about systems of belief that disparage harmless people. I was thinking about the enormous numbers of people who demand that we honor and respect irrational belief systems that hurt us.

I was thinking about the strong push-back I always receive when I publish articles calling for rejecting systems of faith that stigmatize transgender, bisexual, and gay people.

I was thinking about how Braden has too many real-life counterparts. Too many real LGBTQ people suffer rejection and severe harm because systems of religious faith normalize transphobia and homophobia.

Some examples of what I mean —

  • Hundreds of millions of children born to Catholic families learn in school every day that LGBTQ people are disordered and depraved. They read such savage language in their catechisms and text books. Pope Francis openly calls for psychiatric treatment of LGBTQ teens and claims that gay men are too neurotic and unbalanced to be allowed to enter seminary and train for the priesthood.
  • The LDS (Mormon) Church refuses to allow the children of gay couples to be Church members unless and until they denounce their parents’ marriages and move out of their parents’ homes. This is devastating to families that live in regions socially dominated by the LDS Church. This so-called “November Policy” of 2015 caused a spike in already sky-high rates of suicidal attempts among teen LGBTQ Mormons. A recent study by the University of Georgia shows that more than 70 percent of LGBTQ Mormons surveyed met criteria for post traumatic stress disorder as a result of Church teachings.
  • Evangelical Christian leaders preach that natural disasters are God’s judgement against “homosexuality.” They preach wrongly from their pulpits that LGBTQ people choose their sexual orientations and gender alignments. They urge “conversion therapy” on queer youth, a practice condemned by all mental health professional associations as both ineffective and dangerous. Conversion therapy leads to increased rates of suicide attempts, but it can’t change sexual orientation.

Make no mistake. The beliefs themselves are doing the harm —

Faith systems that stigmatize and marginalize groups of human beings lead inevitably to persecution. This is the ultimate outcome of falsely claiming that something is wrong with LGBTQ people.

Religious organizations that negatively brand us LGBTQ people are responsible for the consequences of the torches and pitchforks they’re handing out. They can’t Other us and then disclaim responsibility by pointing to teachings that instruct people to “be nice.” You don’t get brownie points for calling us depraved and then telling people to respect us anyway.

Obvious? Not so much, apparently —

Enormous numbers of liberal, progressive people refuse to condemn bigotry directed at LGBTQ people. They refuse to condemn beliefs that hurt us. They will not acknowledge or behave as if beliefs that Other us are immoral.

Here’s an example —

I wrote an article a few months ago criticizing Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth for agreeing to perform as a featured singer and narrator for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s annual Christmas concert.

I was joining my voice with those of scores of LGBTQ advocates, activists and organizations asking Chenoweth to bow out — to refuse to lend her star power to a church that grievously stigmatizes and persecutes queer people.

For a couple of weeks, I promoted the article and the official “Bow Out” campaign very heavily on Facebook and Twitter. Most of the attention I attracted was from people who (astonishingly) accused me and other ‘Bow Out’ activists of spreading “hate” against the LDS Church.

Understand that I’m not talking about Mormons. I’m not talking about conservative Christians or hardcore Republicans. The people criticizing us were largely self-described progressives and liberals. Many of them were LGBTQ themselves.

What a sad commentary on morality —

How utterly disheartening to note that people can’t or won’t reject religious teachings that hurt people. How utterly discouraging that “faith” matters more to many people than facts, reason, love, and compassion.

It isn’t intolerant to call for tolerance. It isn’t hateful to point out that religious doctrines that hurt innocent people must not be tolerated.

Religion is no excuse for homophobia just as it’s no excuse for racism. No Broadway star would dare perform for an organization that treats Black people the way the LDS Church treats LGBTQ people. They’d be blackballed.

They’d never work on Broadway again.

Most people have no trouble understanding the immorality of racism. Why is it so difficult to understand that homophobia and transphobia are every bit as immoral? Why the hemming and hawing? Why the Orwellian relabeling of loving activism as “hate?”

Churches, temples, and synagogues all over the world have rejected theologies of homophobia and transphobia, just as churches have rejected the theological racism that was prevalent when I was a boy. Marginalizing people is wrong. Plenty of religious people know that.

When I cried before I went to sleep, it’s because I know that young people like Braden will continue to suffer for a very long time. I cried because I understand deep in my heart that stigmatization of gender and sexual minorities in our societies is so socially acceptable that fighting it is often unacceptable.

We have a long, hard struggle in front of us still. A long, painful road.

Republished from Medium with permission of the author.